Defining Race and the Role of Human Equality in a Multicultural Society

Image credit: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

The changing face of racism makes it an elusive concept to address in modern conversations. While outright racism exists, it is the system of institutional racism that is the most insidious. The photo above depicts Irish protesters. Their protest signs demonstrate their disapproval of the Irish police force and its reluctance to address black victims of violence.

Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race frames racial oppression in the context of society and describes conversational tools to address the topic of race. Published in 2018, the book provides instruction for genuine alliance with people of color. Oluo states that racism is rarely an individual attribute, but rather an institutional force that continues to oppress people of color (27). This idea is useful, as, I believe, it diverges from the average white person’s perception of racism. When a white person hears the word “racist,” images of “unabashed racism,” such as swastikas or the Ku Klux Klan, may come to mind (Oluo, 27). Framing race as a societal problem, however, points the finger at institutional support in terms of allowing racism to flourish. This idea also permits the opportunity to fight these oppressive systems (Oluo, 36).

Multiculturalism, written Ali Rattansi and published in 2011, is a short introduction to conversations surrounding multiculturalism. Rattansi outlines the role that the strive for human equality has played in the origins of multiculturalism. Following World War II, Rattansi explains, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights sparked societal changes towards the idea of race (15). These changes are significant as they set the stage for the progressive social movements of the 1960’s and beyond. These historical moments illustrate that policy changes and social changes are key in changing racist systems.

Image credit: United Nations

Both Oluo’s definition of race as a societal, rather than an individual, issue and Rattansi’s explanation of post-WWII reversals of racist policies reinforce racism as an institutional system of oppression. Just as racism is a “systemic machine,” policy changes and social movements can function to address the injustices of this institutional problem (Oluo, 28). Oluo and Rattansi’s ideas therefore synergize to explain the societal changes that must take place to address institutional racism. These chances include the recognition of the existence of racist systems by white people and the enactment of policy changes that establish human equality.

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race. Seal Press, 2018.

Rattansi, Ali. Multiculturalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2011.

B1

Kindergarten Culture Day

Remember culture day at school? When people would bring in different food as a means of representing and educating others on their nationality. It was honestly a beautiful time, celebrating our different heritages through food. But the problem is, we’ve never grown out of this tradition. It seems that today, our conversations about race as a nation, never penetrate deeper than what you would expect at a kindergarten culture day. Seeing White, by John Biewen and Chenjerai Kumanyika, and So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo comment on our nations inability to talk about the real issues regarding race in the United States. Together the podcast and the book bring to light the reasons why people are afraid to have these conversations, and together they create a discourse about how we dress race, and how we should be addressing race.

I’ve included this image just to bring us all back to that time in our lives when we all ate delicious foods made lovingly by our friends mothers, only to touch upon the superficial beauty of multiculturalism.

Isn’t it beautiful how we all coexist together under this glorious flag that represents us all and unites us in freedom. But isn’t it also beautifully naive that we value this faux sense of togetherness in order to coexist but allow racial formations and projects to continue to create a gaping divide in society.

Both Oluo and Biewen ease the readers and listeners into their discourses, as both stress the significance of race as a difficult subject to talk openly about. Both create a relaxed and comfortable dialogue between the readers, and listeners, and the content. By creating this casual yet serious tone, listeners and readers feel invited and welcomed to discuss these taboo subjects. I think that these conversations are essential in todays social climate, but people are too afraid to have them. This is why our nation is stuck in the mind set that we can educate ourselves through superficial activities like culture day. Oluo and Biewen package the information they are sharing to make it more “user friendly” but without diluting the potency of the discourse.

When listening to the first episode of the podcast, Turning the Lens, I took note of the fact that Biewen mentioned his own whiteness several times, and eased himself into the topic of discussion with the help of his co-host Chenjerai Kumanyika. Through easing himself – as a white man – into this conversation highlights the err of caution around conversations about race for white people. Biewen’s enlistment of Kumanyika as a co-host to help “check” him, highlights a fear white people have of talking about race. The fear of talking openly about race, I think, (as a white woman) stems from the fear of getting it wrong, or being labeled as a racist.

Which is honestly a valid fear. Why? Because as a white woman living in America in 2019 I know that I am in a position of privilege, and many people like to pretend that everyone living in America is equal, but this isn’t the case. This is why Oluo teaches her readers in steps on how to have these conversations. People don’t know how to talk about race because there has never been an open dialogue about the divide between the people of this Nation because we live within a system that perceives events like culture day as sufficient. Biewen’s awareness of his own whiteness and the impact of his perspective highlights the err of caution taken around the subject, but also the simple acknowledgement of the truth that it is time we remove our blindfolds and look at our nation in a light that we have never been exposed to before.

The conversations that Oluo urges her readers to partake in are necessary in order to understand how the United States functions, and also to open up the eyes of those who have been too afraid to delve into the reality of  the role of race within society and the government. Similarly, Biewen’s podcast unpacks the meaning of whiteness in this nation but also the meaning of whiteness for people that identify as white. Biewen’s podcast highlights why white people, and all people need to engage in conversations about race in this nation – to inform themselves on the truth of what the U.S. was founded upon and what it continues to run on. Like the old familiar kindergarten culture day, we need to take our conversations deeper, and we need to learn how to do so. Oluo and Biewen create an environment that teaches and allows people to have these vital conversations, in order to bring to light the truth about race in this nation and in all aspects.

Written By Caroline Berezin

Bp. 1

Works Cited

Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk about Race. New York, NY : Seal Press, 2018., 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat00326a&AN=dico.1767489&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Biewen, John, host. “Turning the Lens.” Seeing White, Scene on Radio, 15 Feb 2017. http://www.sceneonradio.org/episode-31-turning-the-lens-seeing-white-part-